About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Friday, May 11, 2007
On free will, once again
Well, if you haven't had enough of it yet, may I suggest a handy-dandy summary of the contributions that science is beginning to make to the free will debate? I published such an essay in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer, which is actually a commentary on a fascinating New York Times article by Dennis Overbye.
As you'll find out in the SI essay, I think Daniel Dennett is the philosopher who's got the most interesting things to say on the topic, especially in his Elbow Room. But science has begun to butt in, starting with the classic experiments by Libet in the 1970s, demonstrating that our subconscious makes decisions significantly ahead of our conscious awareness of them, a pretty scary thought in and of itself (I mean, who, exactly, is in charge here?).
You will also find out why I think that any talk of quantum mechanics in relation to the source of free will is nonsense on stilts, and should be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, I suggest in the essay that there is a legitimate role for so-called emergent properties to play a role in consciousness and, therefore (?) in free will, once we agree on a non-mystical conceptualization of emergence.